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Solutions 6/28: The accelerating change around us

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Solutions 6/28: The accelerating change around us

By Huck Fairman

If some of what follows is familiar, it is because recognized trends and programs are continuing only at an accelerating pace.

This applies to our changing environments, but also to efforts to mitigate global warming. News outlets are reporting new developments almost every day.

At the same time, many observers worry the climate changes we have set in motion are out-stripping our efforts to control them.

A local Princeton tree care employee lamented not enough people in the area recognize what’s happening and are not responding. He fears our civilization, as we know it, may not survive.

In fact, there are so many reports of, and explanations for, our changing climate – and all the resulting repercussions, as well as the many efforts to control those changes – I will simply list them. There’s not enough space to elaborate on each.

Last year, New Jersey experienced record rainfall. This year, there will be more. Many residents agree it feels like, and looks like, we now live in a rainforest.

New York’s state representatives have passed broad climate legislation to eliminate emissions by 2050. Princeton University and the town of Princeton both have similar goals.

Soaring temperatures in Greenland are melting both its ice sheet and sea ice. Temperatures are as much as 40 degrees higher than normal. If the entire sheet melts, it would raise the sea level by about 20 feet. Goodbye East Coast.

An emaciated polar bear was photographed in a Russian city, 300 miles south of its normal home looking for food.

The Trump administration is replacing Obama’s EPA restrictions on coal-burning power plants. It will allow those coal power plants to stay open longer, undoing the effort to reduce carbon emissions. The same with tailpipe emissions. States will be given the authority to decide. A number of states (New Jersey, New York, California and others) are initiating green programs on their own. But Trump apparently still thinks global warming is a hoax, despite the scientific evidence and simple temperature measurements.

In the Himalayas, too, glaciers are melting and threatening the water supplies for hundreds of millions of people.

European Union leaders failed to reach an agreement on a proposal to reduce carbon emissions. One problem is its eastern members rely heavily on coal.

High school students in Princeton and other towns, cities and countries have marched for measures to slow and halt emissions and global warming.

In Germany, many protested the continued mining of coal.

With not enough money to protect all cities along our Gulf and Atlantic coastlines, how do we decide which ones to protect first?

A number of American cities will be replacing some or all gas-powered buses with electric ones over the next decade.

Scientists warn we have, maybe, only a decade or so to reduce emissions, before we lose the ability to control temperatures and climate.

Gov. Phil Murphy is leading and overseeing a number of initiatives to reduce emissions.

By 2030, New York State plans to draw 70% of its electricity from renewable sources. Ten years later, it plans to reach zero carbon emissions from the generation of electricity.

The costs of not acting on global warming will be much greater in another 10 to 20 years, than acting now.

The global insect decline is nearly two times vertebrate extinction. But both are happening and threaten ecological balances, and the survivability of their environments.

Princeton graduate students have formed a coalition (Princeton Students’ Climate Initiative – PSCI) to work with industry and government to reduce emissions and improve resiliency.

Sustainable Princeton is taking similar steps through its climate action plan. It’s 50 volunteers are evaluating the situation and formulating plans to reduce emission and increase resiliency.

Automobile companies will be offering many more electric models to the public over the next year or so.

Unless we change our food production methods, which use insecticides, pesticides and fossil fuels – as well as intensive, single-crop farming – insects and plant diversity face extinction, which could unbalance and destroy the planet’s ecosystems.

The world’s population growth, increasing from 7.2 billion in 2014, is predicted to rise to between 9 and 12 billion by 2100. How will all of those people be fed? We are already near or at the Earth’s carrying capacity.

Forests are being reduced, to allow for more agriculture, but forests absorb much of the carbon we produce. Without them, global warming will increase.

Research has developed several methods to absorb carbon from the atmosphere, but to date they have not yet proved to be practicable in terms of either efficiency or cost. At present, trees and other green vegetation are a better bet.

Oceans may be warming 40% faster than previously thought.

Fish supplies are dwindling, from both over-fishing and increasing temperatures. Coral reefs are being bleached by those temperatures, so they can no longer spawn and support fish populations.

For a number of nations, fish is a primary source of protein. And for many, employment.

New Jersey has drawn up an Energy Master Plan, but it has not been adopted by the Board of Public Utilities. Solar and off-shore wind production projects have been delayed.

While air quality in many of our states has improved markedly, 110 million Americans live in counties with unhealthy air and water pollution. An estimated 100,000 Americans die prematurely from diseases caused (or worsened) by air pollution.

The German conglomerate Siemens has just opened a new energy-storage plant near Hamburg, which will use 1,000 tons of volcanic rock to store heat which, when needed, can be released to power turbines producing electricity. This new method is cheap and efficient, and is one of the needed means for economically storing power produced by solar and wind.

In both this country and Germany, ‘pumped hydro’ is another storage technique used to again save and provide, when needed, the power to turn electricity-generating turbines.

Worldwide, renewable energy technologies employed 11 million people at the end of 2018. Of those, hydropower employs more than two million for operations and maintenance.

In countries where women have been given (or won) social and financial independence, population growth has declined as a result of personal choice. “High-fertility” countries average more than three surviving children born to each woman. These countries are largely in the Middle East, South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Jeff Tittel, chapter director of central New Jersey’s Sierra Club, summarizes the challenges we face:

“We live amid a rapidly worsening climate crisis, about which only government has the authority to take action. Last year was the fourth hottest on record, globally, and the other top five years have all been since 2014. Recent reports show oceans warming 40% faster than previously thought. Impacts will be catastrophic…. Human health impacts are already evident in New Jersey, with rising rates of asthma and tick-borne diseases, such as Lyme.”

With our changing climates come new insects and diseases migrating to new habitats. People, largely in the poorer, southern countries are also migrating to new homes.

At the same time, more people around the world are benefiting from education. Many, gaining social awareness, are protesting for their human rights. Some are spreading environmental awareness.

There is a lot going on. We don’t have a lot of time. We need the participation of as many as possible.


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